Litigation Recent Decisions 12/5/98

Decisions are taken from LAWTEL's Case Law database. LTL: LAWTEL report; TLR: Times Law Reports; ILR: Independent Law Report

Right to compensation under Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997

David Robert Steed v Secretary of State for the Home Office (1998)

CA (Beldam LJ, Ward LJ) 1/5/98

Appeal by the Home Secretary against the order of His Honour Judge Cowell that the plaintiff's claim should not be struck out as disclosing no reasonable cause of action and/or as being an abuse of process. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, passed in the light of the tragedy at Dunblane, made provisions whereby the secretary of state, in accordance with a scheme set up by him, would pay compensation in respect of firearms, ammunition and ancillary equipment surrendered at designated police stations. Under the scheme, owners would have to lodge their handguns and equipment together with a claim form setting out the amount claimed under each of three options. Option (a) provided for payment at a flat rate for individual items. Option (b) provided for payment at rates published in an annexe in respect of individual items. Option (c) applied where a handgun had been adapted, increasing its value beyond the listed prices, in which case the claim had to be supported by an independent valuation. Once a claim had been lodged the Home Office Firearms Compensation Section (FCS) was obliged to check the claim form. In respect of option (c) claims, these were to be met if the supporting evidence was satisfactory. Once checked the claimant was entitled to a notification of approval which the claimant was required to countersign and return, thereby accepting the amount of the compensation offered. If the option (c) supporting evidence was unsatisfactory, the FCS would request further evidence. If that evidence was satisfactory the claim would be met but if not the police would be asked to obtain an independent valuation and that valuation would be used. On 29 September 1997 the plaintiff surrendered firearms and ancillary equipment to the Mole Valley Division of Surrey police together with a claim form making claims under all three options in the total sum of £3,298. In respect of his option (c) claim he supplied a valuation by an independent gunsmith valuing his handguns under that claim at £1,824. By 27 October 1997 the plaintiff had received no compensation and issued a county court summons for the total amount claimed. The Home Office sought to strike out the plaintiff's claim as disclosing no reasonable cause of action, arguing that the right to compensation was not a private law right actionable in the county court. The district judge dismissed the Home Secretary's summons on the ground that it could not have been Parliament's intention to leave former handgun owners without redress. The Home Secretary's appeal of 17 February 1998 was dismissed. By now the Home Office had paid the plaintiff's option (a) and (b) claims leaving the option (c) claim unpaid. The secretary of state appealed on the grounds that any obligation to pay did not crystallise until the claim had been approved and until then a claimant's only redress was to proceed by way of judicial review because the secretary of state was exercising a discretion in making a decision as to whether the claimant's obligations had been fulfilled.